Wednesday, October 19, 2016

B-Western Wednesdays: Treachery Rides the Range (1936)

For Native Americans, the buffalo was of vital importance in the Old West.  It was a source of food, clothing, shelter, and weapons—and the relentless hunting of that wild range bovid by the white man put it perilously close to extinction.  In an effort to foment peace, the U.S. government signs a treaty with the Comanche to make it illegal for buffalo hunters to shoot the beasts on Indian lands.  Negotiating the peace is U.S. Cavalry Captain Red Colton (Dick Foran), who shares a kinship with the tribe (he’s an honorary “blood brother”) presided over by Chief Red Smoke (Jim Thorpe…All-American).  Red Smoke agrees to meet with Colonel Drummond (Monte Blue), Colton’s superior, by “the next moon,” and promises to bring both of his sons—Little Big Wolf (Carlyle Moore, Jr.) and Little Big Fox (Frank Bruno)—along for the powwow.

Back at the fort, Drummond and Colton get a visit from buffalo hunter Wade Carter (Craig Reynolds), who requests permission to hunt buffalo on Comanche lands to meet the demand for buffalo meat and pelts.  Drummond says “No dice, Chicago”; he’s determined to make sure the treaty is enforced—which doesn’t set at all well with Wade.  (When Colton tells him the last of the buffalo are on Native American land—and once the buffalo are gone, so goes the tribe—Carter whips out the familiar western film excuse that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”  He seems nice.)  So Carter, in tandem with bidness partner Burley Barton (Henry Otho), orders his henchmen—headed up by Monte Montague as “Nebraska Bill”—to disguise themselves as Cavalry soldiers and pay Chief Red Smoke a friendly visit.  They convince the Chief that Drummond wants a chinwag earlier than scheduled, and so the Chief’s sons journey back with the “soldiers” where they are killed along the trail.  Well, one of them is—Little Big Wolf, though wounded, manages to make his way back to the tribe and report the treachery riding the range.

Dick Foran’s (billed as “The Singing Cowboy”) third Warner Brothers western is short and sweet (it calls it a wrap after 56 minutes), and therefore it’s painless to take…but although it’s a fast-paced oater this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good one.  (I was kind of critical of Trailin’ West [1936] when I covered that movie earlier on the blog—Treachery Rides the Range [1936] makes West look like Citizen Kane.)  Paula Stone, who also played the love interest in West, doesn’t get a lot to do in this one other than damsel-in-distress (her character of Ruth Drummond is on her way to the fort when the Indians start putting on the war paint…and though Colton is able to stop her stagecoach from getting her to the fort, she winds up in the clutches of Carter and Barton).  Foran’s musical numbers—Ridin’ Home and Leather and Steel—are also pretty uninspiring…though director Frank McDonald does attempt to make Leather interesting by having the star perform as he rides with his fellow Cavalry soldiers.  (I kept hearing Stout Hearted Men in my head the entire time.)

One bright moment in Treachery—and I realize this will only amuse those of us who are fans of the Hal Roach comedies…so I’m guessing everyone, right?—is seeing Don “Thank you gigantically!” Barclay as one of Foran’s men, Corporal Bunce.  Colton and Bunce have to rescue Ruth Drummond from the Comanche…because Chief Red Smoke has decreed that Ruth must die to avenge the death of Little Big Wolf.  Colton gets an idea: he’ll leave Ruth and Bunce with Red Smoke while he and several members of the tribe ride off in search of the Colonel so everything can be ironed out.  Bunce reluctantly agrees to this, but tells his superior officer to be careful in that trademark fruity manner of his: “I have no desire to be parboiled by these Indians...”  (It is indeed a shame that no one thought to bring Barclay back for additional Foran oaters—though the two did work on 1937’s Black Legion.)

With a story and screenplay by future producer William Jacobs (he would also script the first and second entries in the Foran Western series, Moonlight on the Prairie [1935] and Song of the Saddle [1936]), Treachery Rides the Range is pleasant enough but doesn’t really have the “oomph” needed to be a first-rate programmer (even the villains in this one are ho-hum).  It’s available on the Warner Archive MOD DVD set Dick Foran Western Collection (though I DVR’d this one from The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™).

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